This early in spring training, it’s sort of unusual for the Kansas City Royals to have so many lineup and pitching positions already set with potentially good players. In springs past, the Royals usually had several players fighting for roster spots and many times the players who made the roster were marginal at best.
Even though spring training games just started, a few of the lesser-known Royals players have made their impressions. Some are good. Some, not so good.
Starting pitcher Luis Mendoza is making his case for a spot in the starting rotation. In last Sunday’s Cactus League debut against the Texas Rangers, Mendoza threw 36 pitches, giving up an infield hit, a walk and no runs over two innings, contributing to a Royals 6-1 victory.
Mendoza, 28, bounced around with the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers over an 11-year professional career before figuring it out in AAA Omaha last year. Mendoza is out of options and the Royals are taking a long look to see if he can fill a spot in the starting rotation. What happens over the next few starts will determine if he makes the starting rotation, goes to Omaha or another Major League club picks him up if he goes on waivers.
Another Royals player making the most of his opportunities is third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. In the second game against the Rangers, Kouzmanoff came off the bench and hit a walk-off two-run double in the bottom of the ninth to give the Royals a 7-6 win over the Rangers.
A year or two ago, Kouzmanoff might have been the Royals starting third baseman, especially with Alex Gordon’s struggles at third. But with Mike Moustakas solidly at third base, the 30 year-old Kouzmanoff knows he’ll likely be in Omaha unless Moustakas gets hurt. Kouzmanoff can opt out of his contract if he’s not on the Major League roster by May 1. If he has a good spring and returns to his early career form, another Major League team might give Kouzmanoff a chance.
In the Tuesday split-squad game against the San Diego Padres, catcher Max Ramirez belted two home runs as the designated hitter, contributing to the Royals 7-4 win. Then in Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez smacked a two-run single in the ninth.
With Manny Pina recovering from knee surgery, the 27 year-old Ramirez has an opportunity to be the Royals backup catcher over current incumbent Brayan Pena. Being a non-roster invitee, Ramirez will need to keep playing well to make the Royals roster.
Another player who wants to make a good impression is starting pitcher Zach Miner. Well, maybe next time. In Miner’s spring training debut, the right-hander gave up a three-run homer, three hits, a walk and threw two strikeouts over 1.2 innings in a 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians. It’s only Miner’s first start and he will have plenty of chances to win a spot in the Royals starting rotation. And if not, there’s always Omaha.
Reliever Jeremy Jeffress pitched a scoreless inning in the Tuesday split-squad game against the Indians. While Jeffress had a solid outing, it’s his off-field issues which are a concern. This January, Jeffress was charged with three counts of domestic assault, criminal damage and disorderly conduct after an argument with his girlfriend in Surprise, AZ. The first two charges were dismissed and Jeffress was sentenced to 20 hours of community service for the disorderly conduct charge and required to attend a domestic-violence counseling class. Jeffress did not physically assault his girlfriend and apologized to the Royals and their fans for the incident.
Everyone makes mistakes and the best way to overcome mistakes is to learn from them. But Jeffress has already served a 50 game suspension in 2007 and a 100 game suspension in 2009 for testing positive for marijuana. Another failed drug test will be a lifetime ban from baseball. The 24 year old right-hander will need to make a good impression this spring to make the Royals bullpen. For now, the Royals stand behind Jeffress and he appears to be making the effort to do better on and off the field. For Jeffress sake, let’s hope he does.
To be honest, these players could have one of the best springs in their careers and still not break camp with the Royals. In past years, these players would have a good chance to make the Major League roster. But with the Royals depth, it’s likely these players will end up in Omaha. And for the Royals and their fans, that’s a good thing.